Columns, Opinions

Schmidt ’21: How to make orientation introvert-friendly

By
Staff Columnist
Sunday, September 8, 2019

Brown orientation provides an opportunity for new students to meet each other and to explore the myriad of social and extracurricular opportunities Brown has to offer. First-years should be prepared for the countless social activities in their unit meetings, classes and any other clubs or student organizations they may join. For introverted students, this can be a living nightmare. In the socially daunting environment of orientation where extroverts thrive, how do the less gregarious of the first-years fare? Most of the time, the introverts are left in the dust.

As a member of the Orientation Welcoming Committee, I am offering suggestions for how orientation might be improved to encourage introverts to meet other students without the crushing pressure of having to introduce themselves. My perspective is rooted both in my own experience — when I was a first-year, I had a lot of difficulty participating in the events — and in the many conversations I have had with others who shared this experience. That said, I want to be clear that there are many positive aspects of orientation that are essential to all people — introverted and extroverted. Explaining the open curriculum, attending advising meetings and having open conversations about consent are all extremely important, and their place in the orientation schedule is necessary. These events are highly structured and provide a great base of information for incoming students regardless of their social style. The more social, open-ended activities, on the other hand, are where some students may struggle.

Not everyone who comes into orientation has the desire to approach someone random and start a conversation. Some do, and some like to fake it. But what do students who feel socially awkward or introverted do during unstructured periods of social activity?

Think back to your own orientation experience: Were you overwhelmed by the sheer volume of students, by living away from home for the first time and by missing your high school friends? Did you feel pressured to cement new friendships as quickly as possible with peers you have only just met? These experiences are common at Brown’s orientation among both extroverts and introverts, but the former group has a leg up.

A common critique of the orientation program is that many social events are almost entirely unstructured. Large portions of the orientation schedule involve dropping masses of first-years in an open area with the hope that they will naturally mingle with each other. Take the ice-cream social for example. Hundreds of students coalesce on the Main Green without any direction or common activity, besides waiting in line for ice cream. A sea of new people in an unfamiliar environment is intimidating, especially to an introvert.

Smaller events in quieter spaces during orientation may be trying to make introverts feel more comfortable — offering a more relaxed social setting with common activities to strike conversation like board games and movie nights. Even still, more introverted students may feel uncomfortable with activities that compel them to approach others on their own and ask to join.

Approaching new people is a valuable life skill and is certainly applicable in situations later on in life. But when first-year students are already overwhelmed by moving away from home and moving onto campus, orientation should do more to actively alleviate fears of making friends.

The only obvious solution is to provide more structured social activities for students who struggle with tackling small talk. Icebreakers may be unpopular, but they serve a purpose by giving students topics of conversation and potential grounds for finding common interests. Facilitated discussions like these would provide a more comfortable way for students who hang on the outskirts of events to enter conversation.

Thinking about restructuring orientation should also prompt further consideration about the way the college experience tends to favor extroverts throughout all four years. Studies show five key traits ensure success throughout their college careers. Those five traits are agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, extraversion and openness. Students who possessed these traits expressed greater satisfaction with school, earned higher GPAs and showed greater desire to pursue post-baccalaureate education.

Given the challenges that introverts will face throughout college, it is especially important to make orientation accessible and encouraging for this set of students, myself included. Brown prides itself on supporting a pool of students with varying backgrounds, skill sets and perspectives. But to make good on that objective, the University needs to recognize and value differences in personality.

Rachael Schmidt ’21 can be reached at rachael_schmidt@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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